AREU Director’s remarks on the Solutions Strategy for Afghanistan Refugees

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AREU’s director, Mr. Nader Nadery, recently attended the 66th annual meeting of Executive Committee of the United Nation’s High Commissioner’s Program for Refugees and delivered the following speech at a side event on the Solutions Strategy for Afghanistan Refugees.

Ministers, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a pleasure to be able to speak to the Executive Committee members and bring in the Afghan civil society’s voice here at this critical juncture of history in Afghanistan.
2014 marked three major transitions in Afghanistan:
1. A political transition from an elected government to a new one. Despite all problems and troubles during the elections, we managed to make a peaceful transition and form the National Unity Government;
2. A security transition from international military forces to full Afghan responsibility;
3. An economic transition from an economy that was based in large part on international military expenditure.
These transitions, ladies and gentlemen, have created a new sociopolitical and economic environment in the country. The spillover of the transitions has made this year one of our most challenging since 2002.
The immediate outcomes of these transitions are particularly relevant to the discussion here.
For example, tens of thousands of people, whose jobs directly or indirectly depended on the international military, lost their employment.
The Afghan forces are heroically fighting a multitude of security challenges, from the regional terrorist groups to organised drug and crimes groups and regional proxy elements such as Taliban and Haqqanis. The vacuum left from the military transition resulted in a sharp increase in insecurity and subsequently to ANSF being stretched thin across the country.
This double pressure on the country denied the NUG an opportunity to focus further in facilitating the voluntary and dignified return of refugees and IDPs, as well as affected its ability to provide protection for vulnerable groups and its effected population.
As an example, the recent situation in Kondoz city, where, according to Amnesty International, the Taliban and their affiliated central Asian terrorist groups within 24 hours of their move in Kondoz city have engaged in extra judicial killings, torture, rape and persecution of women rights activist and those who worked with the Afghan government or national and international aid organizations.
Thousands of people fearing their lives left their homes and the government was faced once again with the question of providing protection and assistance to the newly displaced people.
The Kondoz episode is a painful reminder to all of us here that unless the push factors of refugee issues from the country of origin is not addressed systematically, a short-term and forced solution wouldn’t be helpful to address Afghanistan’s long protracted refugee crises.
In this regard, the NUG provides a unique opportunity as it has a clear understanding of the problem and has repetitively highlighted the solution that is to deal with the issues of refugees and returnees as an integral part of overall government development plans. The Afghan civil society continuously demanded the government to take on board the needs of returnees in any developmental work, and requests that the plan should show respect to the right of returnees to settle anywhere in Afghanistan they wish to and shows political will to provide access to services, efficient use of limited aids and fighting corruption.
While corruption still remains a major problem of the country, signs that the NUG is serious about its anti corruption agenda emerge at this stage specifically from measures the government has been taking on major government procurement contracts. We are encouraged by the demonstration of intent by the NUG to investigate cases of corruption. Apart from the reopening of Kabul Bank case, in the past four months three other cases, including one against the former mayor of Kabul, is being opened for investigation. We will advocate and demand for more.
Despite limited resources, we have seen early signs of government attempting to make efficient use of the aid and revenue funds. While it’s early to make a conclusive judgment, the strictly-designed 100 days’ plan of government ministries and directorates geared toward efficiency are encouraging early signs.
The Afghan civil society also welcomed the governments’ initiative in the establishment of a constructive dialogue with neighboring states who have hosted large numbers of our refugees, regarding alternative stay arrangements, voluntary repatriation and the need for continued asylum space.
However, increased security challenges and slowed-down developmental work due to reduction in developmental aid adds to push factors for migration and increases the challenges of the NUG to seek a long-term solution for the refugees within the Solution Strategy framework.
In a recent study of minor migrants originating from Afghanistan by my organization, with the support of UNHCR, we found that a combination of frequently inter-related factors, including poverty, insecurity, lack of protection mechanisms, inadequate opportunities for education and employment, and family and peer expectations are the primary push factors for Afghans to let their young children embark on dangerous journey to Europe.
In this situation, it is of utmost importance that donors do not prioritise international funding from development to humanitarian programs. The focus should rather be in making the right investments in the right places at the right time—and to avoid dependencies often associated with humanitarianism. The focus should be in addressing the most urgent needs of returnees, but in a sustainable way and through a development-oriented approach that will foster self-reliance. This approach will very well fit within the Afghanistan National Priority program and the Solution Strategy framework.
Failure to do so along with a premature shift in international developmental aid, given the volatile regional geopolitical climate and instability, will have a far-reaching impact in diminishing any incentives to pull refugees back to the country and to successfully reintegrate them. Studies show that with declining developmental aid support in situations similar to Afghanistan, minority and vulnerable groups, especially women and youth, are negatively affected. Therefore, these groups will have fewer incentives to return and more reasons to embark on migration journeys to Europe. We must make sure that all development programs shall consider integration of youth and women returnees within the developmental agenda. I believe the Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees takes these factors into consideration.
Another painful aspect of Afghanistan’s refugee crisis is its second and third generation. Two-and-a-half million registered refugees and perhaps an equal number of undocumented Afghans continue to live in neighboring countries. As Afghans, we are enormously grateful for the fact that our neighbours, especially Iran and Pakistan, hosted huge numbers of our refugees and for so long a period of time. But the challenge of voluntary return is not affected only by continued conflict in the country; it is also compounded by the fact that 75% of remaining refugees were born, brought up and educated in countries of asylum. For second- and third-generation refugees, voluntary repatriation will be especially daunting and require renewed political will and partnership to enable returnees to settle and integrate in what is, for many, an alien context. The comprehensive voluntary repatriation and reintegration strategy shall recognize this fundamental reality and interventions shall be specifically designed to address this reality.
As a former Human Rights Commissioner, I have heard stories and investigated many cases of young returnees who were born and raised as the third generation of refugees and were trapped in situations they didn’t wanted to be in. They were alien to the context and, in some cases, cultural practices of the society they came to. Their stories in trying to adapt to the new situation are critically important to be heard, as their struggle of reintegration has caused them way more unintentional pain. They returned to their forefathers’ land because the country they were born and raised in and the country in which they had to hide their identity and own the host country’s culture and way of life, could not give them a future as a refugee, and because they could always and forever remain one with no right to apply for citizenship. This is the time also to think about their faith as one of your own and probably to facilitate granting the third generation at least the status of a citizen if they chose to.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As humans our survival instinct is in constant search for assurance. In an increased uncertain situation, where indicators of future certainty about the basic rights and needs are looking unclear, our brain develops solutions. Charting a new course to journey to an unknown future is the only escape the brain can think of under that immense stress.
Therefore, the solution lies in generating pull factors in Afghanistan that are more grounded in development and security. A continued harbouring and supporting of terrorist and groups who creates violence and war in Afghanistan by some of our neighbours certainly goes against the collective desire of respected state members of this executive committee and generates no ground for the “voluntary and dignified” return of Afghan refugees.
Thank you,